Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tornado tracks, satellites, and politics

Some incredible images have been making the rounds of the blogosphere lately.  The first was taken on April 28 from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite.  It shows three tornado tracks through and around the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The next image is a closer view from Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s Earth Observing 1 satellite showing a track running right through the middle of Tuscaloosa (almost parallel to the contrail).

In both images, the brown trail is bare dirt where the tornado ripped up trees and vegetation as it roared over the landscape.  Next is an impressive Doppler radar image of the tornado showing the classic "hook" signature of rotation.

The intense red patch at the point of the "hook" is the debris ball - airborne debris in the tornado reflecting back the radar waves.  Here's a 3-D model of this system:

This was an amazing, complex storm system that, unfortunately, resulted in hundreds of deaths.  Take tornado watches and warnings seriously - many people don't.  While there's little to be done to protect yourself from an EF-5 tornado running across your house, it's foolish to be out driving around (as many people were) after the National Weather Service issued the severe weather watches (in this day and age, there's no excuse to be taken by surprise by severe weather). While actual tornado on the ground warnings only give you a few minutes, the NWS had severe weather watches posted the day before this storm hit.
Here's an interesting aside as well.  Congress wants to reduce our severe weather preparedness by killing funding of environmental satellite.  Read this blog post whose title says it all - Tornado forecasting saved countless lives this week. Too bad Congress, including Alabama’s entire GOP delegation, voted against maintaining forecast quality.  This quote about sums it up:
Clearly, Congressional Republicans were more interested in protecting the $5.5 billion in subsidies and foregone royalty payments for Big Oil—which collectively reported a total of more than $30 billion in first quarter profits this week—than they were in spending the $700 million necessary to literally save the lives of their constituents.
Why do congressional Republicans hate these satellites?  I believe it's because they provide data that supports global climate change.  Can't have that, can we?

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